The table that divided President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney did not adequately capture how far apart their visions are on America’s role in the world. How to deal with friend Israel or foe Iran, trade with an emboldened China, and troop withdrawals from Afghanistan are some of the issues where their differences emerged. Both men threw in some domestic issues in the last debate devoted to foreign policy, full well knowing that most Americans are more focused on the economy at home than China’s.
I watched the debate from the Nueva Luz church in Cleveland, Ohio brought here by the national non-partisan non-profit Project Vote. Almost two dozen people from this Evangelical Latino Christian community concentrated on what Obama and Romney words. While the Republican attacked the Democratic President for missed opportunities in Latin America including strengthening trade ties, debate watchers criticized moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS for not including Mexico, the drug trade, Venezuela, and Cuba after Fidel in his questions.
Instead the spotlight was largely on the Middle East where the Governor made the case that the President’s policies have failed.
“You look at the record of the last four years and say: Is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is Al Qaeda on the run, on its heels? No. Are Israel and the Palestinians closer to reaching a peace agreement? No,” asserted Mr. Romney.
Although not invading Romney’s space, Obama was even more on the offense, accusing his challenger of being “all over the map” and trying to “airbrush history.” Zingers laced with sarcasm aimed right at Romney, with the President describing his foreign policy as being stuck “in the 80s” and casting doubts on his ability to size up the modern world’s challenges.
When Mr. Romney asserted that the Navy is smaller than in 1917, Mr. Obama attacked pointing out that today’s aircraft carriers can not be compared with the early 20th century’s gunboats.
“We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed,” the president said.
The Twitterverse collectively chuckled, as did the congregants, social workers, and students gathered at Nueva Luz, many who are still undecided voters. Whether it’s jobs, the economy, education, or immigration, the common theme was disappointment and disillusion with both candidates and parties. This community feels invisible because although Ohio gets a lot of attention, no one comes to this Latino neighborhood to explain, not in soundbites but with benchmarks and facts how exactly they will solve the nation’s problems.
And this is urgent because for many here, as throughout the country, the last four years under President Obama have been horrible. Just on immigration, Veronica Dahlberg, of the Northeast Ohio community group Hola noted that skyrocketing deportations have ripped apart families, orphaned children, and gutted neighborhoods.
But many here fear the next four years under Romney since he has supported “self-deportation” and has the endorsement of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio who has been hit with a federal lawsuit for racially profiling Latinos.
With the debates over and two weeks left before the polls open, this election will come down to voters.
As Bob Schieffer said when he wrapped up the night, “Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.”
This post was published as “Election 2012: the Last Presidential Debate" on October 23, 2012 in Latina Magazine where I am a weekly politics columnist.